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The ‘helicopter parent’ and the paradox of intensive parenting in the 21st century

Lee, Ellie J., Macvarish, Jan (2020) The ‘helicopter parent’ and the paradox of intensive parenting in the 21st century. Lien social et Politique, 85 . pp. 19-42. E-ISSN 1703-9665. (doi:10.7202/1073740ar) (KAR id:83298)

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The term ‘helicopter parent’ has become highly visible in public and professional commentary about parenting and in culture more generally, notably in North America and the UK. A small body of sociological work has highlighted the paradox of this phenomenon, given by often dramatized expressions of concern with ‘excessive’ parental involvement with children associated with the term, within a culture of intensive parenting. This article builds on this work in two ways. We situate the now ubiquitous description of parental mistakes as ‘helicoptering’ by discussing discursive antecedents of the present label found in 20th century terminology such as ‘overparenting’, ‘smothering’ and ‘coddling’, noting their co-existence with accounts of ‘bad mothers’ as distant and uninvolved. Second, through analysis of the term ‘helicopter parent’ in the British news media in the late 20th and 21st centuries, we assess how present concerns with parental proximity to children are constructed. We found the most prominent themes in media coverage to be parental love ‘gone wrong’, parental ‘pushiness’, and the class position of the helicopter parent. We suggest our analysis shows the ‘helicopter parent’ can be best understood as an aspect of 21st century vernacular, expressing recoil at the perceived outcomes of intensive parenting, but leaving its basic premises regarding parental culpability for individual and social pathologies intact. We conclude that, for sociologists, an important feature of the helicopter parent term is the characterisation of problem parents as middle class and suggest this construction of the cause of parental deficiencies is an important concern for the study of parenting cultures going forwards.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.7202/1073740ar
Uncontrolled keywords: Helicopter parent, intensive parenting, class, love
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Lisa Towers
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2020 08:41 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 14:39 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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